DISA pursues broader, more efficient satellite services
Universal transmission, greater bandwidth top list of goals
Bruce Bennett is the program executive officer for communications — a title recently changed from program executive officer for satellite communications, teleport and services — at the Defense Information Systems Agency. He is responsible for planning, acquiring and managing satellite communications. Programs at the Program Executive Office for Satcom, Teleport and Services (PEO-STS) provide the bulk of the Defense Department’s strategic satcom transport infrastructure to warfighters.
As of press time, Bennett was moving his office to Fort Meade, Md., along with the rest of DISA. He spoke recently with Defense Systems Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg about the universality of transmissions, Future COMSATCOM Services Acquisition (FCSA) and Global Information Grid Services Management (GSM) contracts, and bandwidth of existing transmission pipes.
DS: What are your top priorities?
Bruce Bennett: Basically there are two things: how to get more bandwidth for my available dollar and how we apply technologies and move ahead to get more efficient on the bandwidth we already have. As you know bandwidth is a Moore’s law kind of thing. It’s growing very, very rapidly, but unfortunately, our budgets aren’t growing as rapidly. So we have to figure out smart strategies to be able to [provide] the bandwidth warfighters need.
DS: And you need to do that without launching new satellites, right?
Bruce Bennett: By using newer technologies, like moving satellites away from time-division multiplexing onto Multi-Frequency Time-Division Multiple-Access. Just by doing that we were able to get 40 percent increase in our efficiency on each bit per satellite sample.
DS: Yes, the use of MF-TDMA techniques worked well in 2008. What would you say is the enabling technology of today?
Bruce Bennett: There’s probably not one. There’s probably half a dozen, and the trick is integrating them altogether.
DS: So what would be some of those silver bullets?
Bruce Bennett: The ability to encode more bits on a piece of bandwidth. The ability to optimize networks to allow the most important piece of information to be processed…universal quality of service. The ability to manage, end to end, all parts of the bandwidth. The policy-based network management tools. There’s just not one single technology that’s going to do it because no one single technology goes all the way from end to end.
If you talk about the fiber infrastructure, you have four or five technologies that are enabling. If you talk about switching and routing, you have a couple of technologies that are enabling. If you’re talking about satellite or wireless, there are a couple of technologies that are enabling. Unfortunately, in DOD, we use all of those things, and unless they are all integrated together, you don’t get end to end.
DS: In prepping for this interview, I saw that the portfolio of PEO-STS increased to include terrestrial communications along with satcom, teleport and services. What’s the significance of that?
Bruce Bennett: We’re trying to get to a true area of convergence. We’re trying to merge the terrestrial [segment] of a satellite transport into a unified transport architecture — just like we’re trying to integrate voice, video and data into a common infrastructure.
DS: And what are some of the highlights in those areas?
Bruce Bennett: On the terrestrial side, highlights are moving to higher bandwidth efficiencies on dense wave division multiplexing…moving from 10 gigabit wavelengths to 100 gigabit wavelengths, how to improve our distances between amplifications, and how to improve diversity and redundancy in that network such that we become much more fault tolerant from end to end and in the backbone, in switching and routing. It’s how we collapse layers 2 and 3 and how we provide some of the increased protections of Layer 2 and Layer 3 VPN into the network without creating many subnetworks that are uninteroperable.
On the satcom side, we’re working on integrating satellite into terrestrial so that the user doesn’t know whether he is connected via a fiber or via satellite. We’re working on allowing end-to-end situation awareness so that the commander on the front line can make the determination of how much or the type of bandwidth he can have at any given moment. So those are some of the things we’re working on day in and day out.
DS: Let’s talk briefly about FCSA. Two of the three parts of the FCSA contact have been awarded.
Bruce Bennett: Those are the two new Schedule 70 contracts, one for bandwidth and one for satellite services. One you buy on a per-transponder or per-megahertz basis, and the other, you buy on a megabit basis, or time basis. So think of the Schedule 70 for bandwidth as me going to Intelsat and buying a transponder on one of their satellites, [or] think of it as going through Iridium or Inmarsat and buying minutes on a pre-placed service.
The remaining part of the FCSA contract is the [indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity].
[For example], if we need five people to help support us or we need to install something, then we’re not buying a transport or service. The first two are two-year contracts with evergreen clauses, which means that they’re open forever. So if somebody has a schedule and they come up with a new service, they can just amend their offering, and we can offer it throughout the DOD.
The IDIQ is only a five-year contract. That will be awarded this summer.
DS: We’re not discussing the GSM contract in this interview, but tell me the thinking behind the six-month contract extensions to SAIC and Apptis, which pushes back your initial contract awards.
Bruce Bennett: It is just being done to ease transition.
DS: Is that kind of like the Navy’s continuity-of-services contract in the transition from the Navy Marine Corps Intranet to the Next Generation Enterprise Network.
Bruce Bennett: That’s correct. We just want to make sure that we have enough flexibility so that the user does not ever go without service.
DS: We were talking about technology enablers earlier. The Joint Internet Protocol Modem Program is one of those, and one of the major programs in PEO-STS. Bring me up to date.
Bruce Bennett: Joint Internet Protocol Modem is one of those key technology enablers that allows us to converge terrestrial and satellite, by allowing satellites to now act just like the terrestrial networks with a whole IP end-to-end bases, just like going to your house. That has completed testing. We’re getting ready for operational testing and should start full deployment this summer.
DS: Describe it please.
Bruce Bennett: There are two parts. There are the hubs. There will be two of them in every teleport and one in every [Standard Tactical Entry Point] site. So that’s 15 locations that will have one, and another six locations will have two.
It’s basically small teleports that are put up to handle tactical loads for either [the Defense Satellite Communications System] or for a specific set of missions. But it’s a very small site with maybe four or five antennas, whereas the teleports have 10, 12, 15, 18 antennas and cover the whole spectrum of satellite networks.
DS: And what will that mean to the warfighter at the tactical edge?
Bruce Bennett: One, they will be able to use all the newer technologies with better bandwidth efficiency. And two, they will never have to pay again for the cost because [of the cost efficiencies of] off-the-shelf systems. Right now, if the Army puts up a system like a [Joint Network Node for at-the-halt communications], the Army has to pay for the DISN connectivity, the hub, the teleport cost, the uplink cost, the satellite cost and then the remote modem cost.
By going over to the Joint IP Modem, they won’t have to pay for the DISN cost, the hub cost [and] the teleport cost because that will be all part of the infrastructure. So it will be able to allow some of these guys, some of these services to eliminate cost, and we will do it on an enterprise basis, so that no matter where they go to, they will have access.
DS: What’s the near-term road map for the Joint IP Modem?
Bruce Bennett: We’ll begin fielding the hubs this summer and should have a full rollout in the middle of . Services will start buying them as their current modems need to be replaced, because we’re not forcing this across to everybody. What we’re doing is we’re putting everything in place so as they need to replace their systems due to age and obsoleteness, here’s what they go to with very little cost and absolutely no risk to their missions.
DS: And is the program open to a variety of manufacturers?
Bruce Bennett: There are a number of companies going to be manufacturing them. We did it with an open-source standard; it won’t be a DOD-unique standard. Our idea is to make this a commodity.
DS: I hear a lot of people talking about the need to develop a common operating picture. Is that what you’re trying to do with transmission media?
Bruce Bennett: We’re trying to converge all the disparate systems into a common family of way ahead. We don’t care whether the warfighter is connected by fiber, by Ethernet, by satcom, by wireless or two tin cans and a string. If it meets his service-level agreements and his quality-of-service requirements, we all should be happy. So what we’re trying to do is to get any piece of information from any source to any hub or gateway, to any transmission source, to any user anywhere in the world at any time and for any reason.
DS: That’s a tall order, clearly. What would you say is an honest assessment of where you are in accomplishing that sort of universality? Are we 50 percent there? Are we 40 percent there? What would you say?
Bruce Bennett: Well, I would say we’re better than 50 percent there, with bigger strides than I ever thought possible. When I first came to DISA in , one of the things my boss did was give me the policies to read. One of the policies was written by a guy named Art Money, who was the assistant secretary of Defense for C4I.… The policy said that our goal was to make sure that every [combatant command] and every joint task force had at least 24 megabits of bandwidth to do their jobs.
Twelve years later, I’m struggling to give them 24 wavelengths of 10 gigabits each to do their job. That’s how much things have changed. Think about it: What would you do today with a 56K modem, other than use it as a doorstop?
And basically we have made these jumps with very little change in our underlying budgets. So Maj. Gen. Dennis Moran, the vice director of C4 on the Joint Staff, used to call it a bizarro world, where you would pay less and get more.
And that’s what we’re doing right now, and that’s what we’ve got to continue to do because budgets are going to continue to get tighter. Their requirements aren’t going to get any less, they’re going to keep doubling every 18 months, and we’re going to have to figure out how to make that happen within our declining budget.